MANCHESTER, April 13 – Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini backed his players to go on and win the Champions League after they overcame Paris Saint-Germain to reach the semi-finals for the first time.
Having procured two away goals in last week’s 2-2 first-leg draw, City went into Tuesday’s home leg in a position of strength, but it was not until Kevin De Bruyne struck in the 76th minute that their passage to the last four was secure.
City join Real Madrid in the semi-final draw, with Barcelona and Bayern Munich on course to follow them after winning the first legs of their respective ties, and despite the might of the competition, Pellegrini believes that his side can go all the way.
Asked if City could win the tournament, he told reporters at the Etihad Stadium: “Of course, because I think it is one of the targets of this club to achieve every year.
“We receive a lot of criticism for different reasons, but every year we are improving. I am sure the target of this club is to win the Champions League, but winning it will not mean the project is finished.
“They want to continue improving every season.”
Appointed in 2013, Pellegrini will hand over to Pep Guardiola at the season’s end and could find himself in the curious position of going up against his successor in the last four, provided Bayern first overcome Benfica.
But the Chilean, who has already steered City to League Cup glory this season, said that an encounter with Guardiola would be “exactly the same” as a meeting with any other adversary.
When it was put to him that it might make for an interesting match-up, he replied: “Interesting for whom? The media?”
PSG were already missing David Luiz and Blaise Matuidi through suspension and Marco Verratti through injury, and visiting coach Laurent Blanc sprang a major surprise by setting his team out in an untried 3-4-1-2 system.
City exploited shakiness in the visitors’ defence to win a first-half penalty, awarded after Sergio Aguero was felled by PSG goalkeeper Kevin Trapp, but Aguero sent his spot-kick wide.
– Blanc shoulders blame –
After losing Thiago Motta to an apparent hamstring injury, PSG threatened from set-pieces in the second half, but De Bruyne ended their hopes of victory when he curled home brilliantly from outside the box.
Blanc said he took responsiblity for PSG’s fourth successive quarter-final exit and blamed his team’s elimination on a lack of composure in front of goal over both legs.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who squandered a penalty of his own in the first leg, will be out of contract at the end of the season, but Blanc said it was too soon to talk about the need for a clear-out of ageing players.
“It’s a thought to consider, but that’s not the only one — you need an overall analysis, and not just of the Champions League,” he said.
“There will be questions to ask ourselves and try to find good answers. There are star players out of contract, but that’s not for now. Tonight we’re so disappointed. We really believed we could qualify.
“You shouldn’t say it’s now or never. You never know. Clubs have won the Champions League after 10 years of trying and trying, and then getting there.”
PSG retained their Ligue 1 title with a record eight games to spare, but Blanc gave a vague answer when asked if the lack of domestic competition had been a factor in their elimination.
“City were much more solid. Is that the fault of Ligue 1? I don’t know,” he said.
“The leagues are what they are, but the Champions League is often the same clubs in the semi-finals. I think this year will perhaps be the same again.
“There are three clubs usually in the last four and a guest club. It’s City this season, and bravo to them. It could have been Paris, but we were missing too many things to reach the semi-finals.”